Analysis Law and Policy

Minnesota Anti-Trans Suit Is Also an Attack on Minors’ Abortion Rights

Lisa Needham

Recently, a parent in Minnesota filed a lawsuit seeking to block her transgender daughter from receiving further gender-affirming medical service. This is an assault on the rights of trans youth and minors who may need abortion care.

Recently, a parent in Minnesota filed a lawsuit seeking to block her transgender daughter from receiving further gender-affirming medical services. If this mother succeeds, the resulting legal changes could have profound implications for trans youth and minors who need abortion access in Minnesota.

The parent is being represented by the Thomas More Society, which often spends its time using the judicial system in attempts to enshrine terrible anti-choice restrictions. Here, it has branched out a bit to assault the rights of trans youth, but make no mistake: This is also an attack on abortion rights. Harming trans teens is just an added, awful bonus for them.

Minnesota law provides for medical emancipation, in which a minor can consent to any health services without parental consent or input if they have been managing their own personal financial affairs and are living apart from their parent. In this case, the daughter, referred to as J.D.K. in the complaint, has been living on her own since at least the fall of 2015. In the complaint, the mother says she has always held her home open to J.D.K.—but legally, in Minnesota, that is beside the point. There is no requirement that the parent must have barred the minor from the home in order for the child to be medically emancipated. There is no court process that the minor needs to go through, either. The law is designed to ensure that minors are able to obtain medical care when they need it, rather than after a lengthy court proceeding.

Since she was medically emancipated in the fall of 2015, J.D.K. has been obtaining medical services related to her transition. Her mother wants to stop that cold. J.D.K. is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, as is the county, J.D.K.’s medical providers, and J.D.K.’s school. As the plaintiff, J.D.K.’s mother wants the county to stop paying for J.D.K.’s medical care, J.D.K.’s medical providers to stop providing that medical care, and J.D.K.’s school to turn over school records to her—records J.D.K.’s mother is currently barred from seeing because, again, J.D.K. is medically emancipated.

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The lawsuit doesn’t just seek to stop J.D.K. herself from receiving vital medical services, however. What it seeks to do is to create a legal process by which all Minnesota parents can oppose the medical emancipation of a child and and, by extension, any medical services that child might need. This is almost certainly where Thomas More comes in.
The complaint laments that there is no process to “challenge, retain or restore parental rights” after there’s a medical emancipation determination, either under Minnesota’s medical emancipation law or “under common law regarding all matters for which a minor’s emancipation determination is used.”

It’s the last part that should scare you the most. It’s an obvious swipe at Minnesota’s parental notification scheme. Minnesota law prohibits an “unemancipated minor” from receiving abortion services without consent. Here’s the rub: There’s actually no statutory definition for “emancipated minor” in Minnesota, nor is there a process codified in law to obtain complete emancipation (in which the minor generally has the same responsibilities as an adult). Basically, minors become completely emancipated by petitioning the court, but there are no forms or guidance for how that happens. Because the law in Minnesota is vague, it’s ripe for the sort of sideways challenge you see here.

If the plaintiff and the Thomas More Society prevail here, a parent would have the right to demand a hearing before or after a minor’s emancipation to restore full parental rights, which could mean barring the minor from accessing any medical care absent the parent’s consent. And let’s face it: Abortion and gender-affirming medical services are likely the only medical procedures conservatives are concerned about blocking with this sort of litigation. No one is likely going to court to prevent an emancipated minor from getting their ACL repaired. Moreover, the chances that a minor can effectively represent themselves in a full-fledged hearing against their own parents are beyond slim, which means that merely by demanding a hearing, the parent could functionally block care.

Though this lawsuit is almost certainly a vehicle to attack abortion rights, the plaintiff and the Thomas More Society seem more than happy to harm trans youth in the process. The complaint deliberately misgenders J.D.K. throughout, uses outmoded terms like “sex change,” and frames gender transition services as “elective medical services” rather than acknowledging they are necessary to allow J.D.K. to properly express her gender identity. All in all, though it pretends to paint a picture of a parent who is saddened by this situation and desperate to reconnect and play a role in her child’s life, the complaint instead creates a nightmare pastiche of willful violence against trans youth and minors who need abortion services.

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